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D.C. makes a statement at RECon retail show

By Jonathan O'Connell

LAS VEGAS -- The convention center hall at International Council of Shopping Centers is filled with booths – for brokers, property owners, retailers and municipalities.

D.C., through its contractor, the Washington D.C. Economic Partnership, is one of the largest public players, putting many – if not all – the other cities in attendance to shame in terms of both size and sophistication. The 2,400-square-foot booth has four private meeting rooms where Deputy Mayor Valerie Santos began taking meetings starting 2:00 Sunday and where Mayor Adrian Fenty has a full slate of meetings planned beginning Monday morning. There is a flatscreen television playing marketing materials for D.C. developments, a computer terminal with a touch screen that allows users to “explore” various neighborhoods and a poster-sized image of nearly every one of the city's top developments.

D.C. hasn’t always had such a presence here. Richard Bradley, executive director of the Downtown Business Improvement District, remembers the first visit at the start of Mayor Anthony Williams’ tenure. “We basically had a card table way upstairs somewhere with a few other cities. It was hardly a presence. The first reception was in a sort of conference meeting room. There were 36 people there,” he said. “35 of which I think worked there.”

The city has ramped up and maintained its presence, according to Steve Moore, executive director of the Economic Partnership, because Washington still considers itself lacking sufficient retail. The city counts about 8.5 million square feet of retail within its borders. With nearly 600,000 residents, that means about 14 square feet of retail per resident, compared to an average of about 24 for other metropolitan areas.

Moore (who has been to this conference, in this building more than 20 times in various capacities) says he will know on the plane ride home that he has been successful not by what letters of intent are signed or what leases are completed but by how much activity he initiates that could mean deals later in the year.

“It’s almost like in basketball causing a fast break, you know, you get the ball and you move the ball down the court,” he said, hustling to squeeze in a shower Sunday afternoon. “That’s what the job is.”

By Dan Beyers  |  May 24, 2010; 9:54 AM ET
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